A is for Ackee

After most of the children’s books drowned in the hotel flood, we bought some new ones in a local bookshop. One of the books was an alphabet colouring book. The first page had a blob outline and the text, A is for ackee. We had no idea what it was, nor what colour it should be.

Ackee - forbidden fruit

Soon enough we’d had our first taste of this strange fruit and all were pleasantly surprised by its resemblance to scrambled egg. Good, I thought, a new way of getting some vitamins in the kids without protest. However, I also quickly found out that ackee can also be extremely dangerous. Or as Callen Damornen puts it,

If the inside is not ripe or overly ripe, it is poisonous. The pod is also poisonous as well as the rest of the plant and seed. The water in which the fruit is cooked is also poisonous.

Uh-huh. AckeeScare me some more.

• Nausea and vomiting occur in 75% of patients; severe vomiting may be followed by a quiescent phase, followed by recurrent vomiting.
• Diaphoresis and pallor
• Tachypnea and tachycardia
• Headache
• Weakness and paresthesias
• Seizures, generalized tonic clonic, occur in 24% of patients.
• Drowsiness and coma occur in 25% of patients.
• Death may occur in an average of 12.5 hours in severe, untreated cases.

Source: eMedicine

“Tonic clonic” sounds like this year’s dance drug (I’m listening to a Leftfield Essential mix). But still, blimey, Callen recommends wearing rubber gloves when you handle the stuff. You’d think it was radioactive the way they go on, yet it’s sold on every street corner and is a staple food, served most tastily with saltfish.

To end, a little display of my fool-fool CSS skills, with a quote from my current bedtime reading, Michael Thelwell’s superb novel based on Perry Henzell’s celebrated film, The Harder They Come.

The Harder They Come
In the days when sugar was akin to gold, and the metaphor for wealth in European society was “wealthy as a West Indian planter,” that same planter class, anxious to increase profits, used the Royal Navy to scour the Empire for plants that would feed their slaves and so lessen their dependence on imported food.

Ackee_detail They had succeeded too well for their own interests, bringing yams, ackees, melons, assorted tubers and peas from Africa, mangoes from India, breadfruit, apples, and coconuts from the far reaches of the Pacific, finally bringing to the land the riches that helped end slavery and their world. For the Africans, taking seeds and cuttings, had simply left the plantations to establish free communities in the hills.

8 thoughts on “A is for Ackee”

  1. Very interesting – I’ve only ever seen ackee in cans over here, and never knew it was such a scary fruit. I wonder how anyone ever discovered the conditions under which it could be eaten!

  2. Zinnia, I imagine it went something like this:

    King: OK. Make a note: seed also poisonous. Now bring forth the next volunteer to drink the cooking water!

    Ivo, apart from tasting good, for many people ackee is free food. I often see men with long poles and hooks “fishing” for ackee in the trees by the roadside.

  3. I love it myself, though Natty is allergic to it, so we don’t eat it often., Still Ackee is supposed to be very high in fat and is mentioned as one of the food contributing to the high incidence of prostate cancer in jamaica. See here

  4. Lawd have mercy. And here I am, staring at the ackee tree growing out this window, here, right now.

    And my uncle, when he lived in Guyana, used to pick it [opened, of course] and eat it RAW, UNCOOKED!!! And an aunt, too.

  5. I been eating the ting since a was a little bitty boy and aint never got sick from it. I be 54 years old now. Like anything its just a matter of learning the right way to do it.

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